Our planned project with Norfolk Record office and clients of Together for Mental Wellbeing in North Norfolk has taken several steps on the way to happening.
Yesterday I met Gary Tuson, the County Archivist, Victoria Draper, Education Officer at the Record Office and Jon Kingham who runs Together in North Norfolk to talk about the project plan. We will submit an HLF bid in November.
The consensus is that this one’s got legs.
Even better, it’s got faces.
We poured over a late 19th Century Case Book from St Andrew’s Hospital, the old Norfolk County Asylum.
Each two page admission record has a monthly assessment of the patient’s state of physical and mental health. This treasure of social and medical history is a compelling testament to the suffering, deprivation and indeed care of individuals, so much so that it feels a bit prurient to read about them.
Many of the patient records have passport sized photographs on admission and discharge. Before and afters. One woman is shown on admission with another person’s hand on her head, holding it still. She wears the clothes she came in with, and is in obvious distress. On discharge, smartened up, posing for the camera and recorded as ‘recovered’, she is prepared to be seen.
Where did she come from? Who’s hand held her head? What became of her? Who provided the discharge get up?
We know her occupation, marital status, diagnosis, height, weight, place of residence. We can discover much about her but essentially she remains essentially mysterious, incommunicado as Winnicott described it. Like we all are.
The record is a real encounter between one person and another across time, but it is an unequal meeting. She can’t talk back. There has to be an underlying principle of treating her and her Case Book fellows with the same level of respect and attention that we accord our participants.